Written by Zoe Rosa | Wednesday, 15 March 2023
Do you find yourself feeling anxious or constantly overwhelmed? Many of us experience these feelings and this article’s aim is to give you a deep understanding of your body and achievable tools that you can use any time to switch out of feeling overwhelmed to cool, calm, and collected.
Our current lives, from phone notifications to our jobs, can cause chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is also known as the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response. Symptoms of this can be increased heart rate, blood pressure, sweaty palms, and tight throat, to name a few. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is known as the ‘rest and digest’ branch of the autonomic nervous system. Our PNS does the opposite of the SNS and slows down our heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers, and allows our food to digest effectively.
Luckily, there are ways for us to tap into the PNS system using the following practices.
Breathe in through your nose, sip in any last air with a second inhale, and your mouth remains closed. Exhale throughout the mouth with a sigh, and let the shoulders soften.
See as you repeat if you can become more comfortable with the sigh, making it as loud as you want.
Add a count to the breath, breathing in for four, exhaling for six.
A randomised controlled study by Balban et al. (2023) found this type of breathing to be more effective in improving mood and reduction in respiratory rate compared to mindfulness meditation.
Finding the anchors of the body, noticing the grounding of the feet on the floor, pressing all four corners of the feet into the earth.
Noticing the sit bones grounding into the chair. Feeling the chair holding you.
Placing your hands either on your lap or one on your heart one on your belly. This tells the body you are safe, and that it is okay to slow down and be still. There are more health benefits to doing this outdoors and barefoot.
The Chevalier and Sintra et al. (2011) study shows when grounding on the earth an improvement in the SNS and PNS occurs. This study also showed a positive trend in heart rate variability throughout 40 minutes of grounding, indicating an increased benefit over time.
Wim Hoff has sparked the topic of cold water therapy for a plethora of conditions from anxiety to pain.
Whether it’s a cold shower or a dip in the cool ocean, cold water exposure over time makes our nervous system more resilient to stress. This works by strengthening the vagal tone.
Turn on a cold shower and focus on either side of your neck.
Pools, ice baths and the ocean are great options also.
The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve in our body and is a core component of the PNS. ‘Vagus’ can be translated to ‘wanderer’. This is due to its wandering nature around the body. It is two sets of nerves that run along the right and left sides of the neck and goes on to innervate areas such as the trachea, bronchi, and gastrointestinal tract and regulation of the heart rhythm.
Jungmann et al. (2018) randomised controlled trial showed improvement in heart rate variability and heart rate, suggesting an increase in cardia-vagal activity via cold stimulation to the lateral neck area. Therefore, to optimise cold water exposure benefits, focus on the sides of the neck where the vagus nerves run.
Singing out loud can feel so good as it stimulates the vagus nerve. This is also the case with humming and gargling.
The bee-humming breathing technique, known as ‘Bhramari Pranayama’ in yoga is an easy technique to add to your tool bag of calming hacks.
It involves inhaling through the nose silently and then pressing the lips together and making a humming sound like a bee on the exhale through the nose. Yogis also press their index fingers on the tragus of their ears, this is cartilage in between the cheek and inner ear to block off the ear canal.
The vibrations of this sound have been shown to significantly increase parasympathetic tone via stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve. In Ghati et al. (2021) study heart rate variability was significantly improved after 5 minutes of bee-humming breath.
Balban, M. Y., Neri, E., Kogon, M. M., Weed, L., Nouriani, B., Jo, B., Holl, G., Zeitzer, J. M., Spiegel, D., & Huberman, A. D. (2023). Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal. Cell Reports Medicine, 4(1), 100895. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2022.100895
Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S. T. (2011). Emotional Stress, Heart Rate Variability, Grounding and improved Autonomic Tone: Clinic Applications. Integrative Medicine, 10 (3), 18-20. Retrieved from:
Ghati, N., Killa, A. K., Sharma, G., Karunakaran, B., Agarwal, A., Mohanty, S., Nivethitha, L., Siddharthan, D., & Pandey, R. M. (2021). A randomized trial of the immediate effect of bee-humming breathing exercise on blood pressure and heart rate variability in patients with essential hypertension. EXPLORE, 17(4), 312–319. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2020.03.009
Jungmann, M., Vencatachellum, S., Van Ryckeghem, D., & Vögele, C. (2018). Effects of cold stimulation on cardiac-vagal activation in healthy participants: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Formative Research, 2(2).
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Zoe Rosa is a qualified naturopath and certified yoga teacher. She has a passion for empowering others with the tools they need to find healing and alignment in their daily lives and health conditions. Zoe has a particular interest in acne, gut health, female reproductive health, and mental health.